When Bullying of Jewish Students Masks Ugly Anti-Semitism

Hatred in American High Schools Demands Our Attention

Throwback: Are high schools becoming the site of an anti-Semitism not seen since the 1940s.
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Throwback: Are high schools becoming the site of an anti-Semitism not seen since the 1940s.

By Kenneth S. Stern

Published February 06, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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Last year, Jewish high school students from Queens told me, almost as an aside, that classmates roll pennies in front of them. Two years ago, a group of high school students from the Binghamton, N.Y., area told me they were called “cheapie,” had to listen to chants of “Heil Hitler” and “Nazi,” and were kicked and otherwise intimidated on a Facebook-promoted “Kick a Jew Day.”

A recent court case chronicles a similar environment at a Long Island school. A Jewish student (now 16 years old) at Northport High School was addressed not by his name, but by calls of “Jew” or “Hey, Jew” or “You dumb Jew.” He was told: “Jews are disgusting,” “Being Jewish must suck,” “Hitler was a good person.” He was subjected to “jokes,” such as, “How many Jews can fit into a car? Two in the front, three in the back, and 6 million in the ashtray,” and, “What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A pizza doesn’t scream when it goes into the oven.”

The type of anti-Semitism we associate with the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s still occurs in some places in the United States where Jews are a distinct minority, school officials are indifferent and parents do not know what to do. Some parents fear that bringing up the problem might actually make things worse (if the school does not change, and even if it does, they worry that their child might be blamed). The Northport case offers an important cautionary tale.

The high school student was bombarded with anti-Semitic provocations. From time to time, coins would be dropped in his path, and classmates would implore, “Get them, Jew,” or “Pick it up, Jew.” And on Valentine’s Day 2011, a student walked up to him and read a poem: “Roses are red, violets are blue. My love for you is burning hotter than 100 Jews burning in an oven.”

Going home after school provided little relief. Classmates posted anti-Semitic slurs on social media — in particular on Facebook.

A month before that lovely Valentine’s Day poem, the Jewish student wrote an essay for his English class. It was titled simply “Anti-Semitism.” “It gets lonely in school” he wrote. He recounted how it felt to be greeted not by his name, but by “Hey, Jew,” and, when he sneezed, by “God Bless Jew.” He wrote that he did not know how to reply to the insults, that sometimes he would just stand there in shock.


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